Quarantine confidential: The unexpected ways social distancing impacted life for women with overactive bladder

(BPT) – In 2020, the phrase “social distancing” became mainstream, as many people around the world had to experience extended periods of quarantining. The mandate to keep distance, limit travel and stay home has left many people to feel anxious, isolated and lonely. Unfortunately, for the 30 million Americans that suffer from overactive bladder (OAB), the feelings are all too familiar.[i]

OAB is a condition defined by the sudden urge to urinate that is difficult to ignore or control, with people experiencing that “need to go” feeling more than eight times a day and are frequently woken up two or more times at night.[ii] Beyond physical symptoms, individuals with OAB also report significant impairment to quality of life, with the condition impacting daily events, physical activity, mental health, sexual function, relationships and emotional well-being.[iii] Those affected often suffer in silence as their conditions are misunderstood or not adequately treated.iii

Ethnographic research[iv] from Urovant Sciences revealed some unanticipated outcomes of COVID-19 on OAB patients.

1. The Relief of Social Distancing

For some, COVID-19 has provided a safe haven. Living with OAB can result in unexpected and urgent trips to the bathroom, causing some to skip social events altogether. Some people say they feel more relaxed at home with a bathroom just a few steps away.

Vanessa, a saleswoman who has been living with OAB for over 20 years, says being able to work from home has allowed her to go about her daily routine with less stress about her condition. “OAB has always made the smallest of things — like grocery shopping or going to the movies — more challenging. It makes me feel like an outcast when I’m out in public or travelling for work and the only thing on my mind is my bathroom breaks. Spending more time at home during the pandemic has been a relief. I don’t need to plan my routes around my bathroom schedule or risk feeling embarrassed in front of others.”

2. The Difference Five Minutes Makes

Many stores and restaurants have new COVID-based safety protocols in place to maintain cleanliness. However, something as little as a five-minute delay could shatter an entire day for someone with OAB. Every extra minute waiting in lines, in one-way aisles, or looking for an open bathroom may be the difference between making it home or experiencing a leak.

“COVID has made life with OAB even more complicated, and everyday tasks sometimes feel impossible,” said Sia, another woman with OAB. “With all of the restaurants in my area closed, at times I was left with zero options if I have to use the bathroom away from home. I’ve had to plan my errands in advance and even call the stores ahead of time before mapping out my route around the open restrooms. My OAB is constantly in the back of my head.”

3. The Doctor will Video Chat You Now

For many, time in quarantine has been spent on projects they otherwise put off: from home organization to baking. This may also be an ideal time to build a stronger relationship with your doctor — especially for women who have been putting off those doctor’s visits. Though more than 40 percent of women in the United States live with OAB symptoms, many individuals delay seeking treatment or even discussing their symptoms with healthcare providers because they think their issues aren’t important enough.iii

Telemedicine, or virtual doctors’ visits, were steadily on the rise before seeing a huge jump in popularity following COVID-19 concerns. Now, telemedicine may also be helping remove roadblocks to care. Patients do not have to wait in-person at doctors’ offices donning a mask, map out where the nearest restroom is, or worry about a long drive to a physician’s office. Some may also be more comfortable having these conversations from the comfort of their home.

All of this may result in better outcomes for patients: when a healthcare provider better understands their patients’ lifestyles and needs, the better they can customize their treatment recommendations and symptom management. Talking with a healthcare provider about OAB can improve understanding of the condition, keep patients updated on the latest treatment options, and make it easier to explore the options that may work best for you. Whether virtually or in person (following safety protocols), make your health a priority.

To help address the needs of women struggling with OAB, and to help reduce the stigma so often associated with this condition, Urovant created Bladder Chatter: an online, community-based forum that helps empower, inform and support women with overactive bladder. The site is for people who seek to learn from each other in a safe, private and nonjudgmental place. Bladder Chatter hosts expert articles, tips and patient stories that inform OAB patients how they can change the way they think about their OAB.

“I’ve tried countless different approaches to manage OAB, and sometimes it feels like this is something I just have to live with,” said Vanessa. “Right now, I don’t even discuss OAB with my family, just one friend who has the same experiences. I would love an opportunity to talk to other women, hear about what’s working for them, and consider new options to discuss with my doctor for my own OAB management.”

Join the conversation and start connecting with others at BladderChatter.com.

[i] Coyne, K. S., Sexton, C. C., Vats, V., Thompson, C., Kopp, Z. S., & Milsom, I. (2011). National community prevalence of overactive bladder in the United States stratified by sex and age. Urology, 77(5), 1081–1087. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2010.08.039

[ii] Mayo Clinic Staff (2020) Overactive Bladder Symptoms & Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/overactive-bladder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355715

[iii] Reynolds, W. S., Fowke, J., & Dmochowski, R. (2016). The Burden of Overactive Bladder on US Public Health. Current bladder dysfunction reports, 11(1), 8–13. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11884-016-0344-9

[iv] Basis Health Ethnography (September 2020). The OAB Files